Albert Einstein's brain to go on display


Sherna Noah
Tuesday 27 March 2012 14:42

Dr Albert Einstein's brain is going on display for the first time in the UK - with that of an infamous murderer.

Following his death at the age of 76 in 1955, Einstein's brain was divided into sections, two of which are going on show at the Wellcome Collection.

Brains: The Mind As Matter also features the brain of US suffragette Helen H Gardener, which she donated to science to disprove theories about gender.

The two slides from Einstein's brain are on loan from the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, where they were only shown publicly in the US for the first time last year.

The eminent scientist was cremated and his ashes were scattered according to his wishes.

But pathologist Thomas Harvey, who carried out the post-mortem examination, said that Einstein's son gave him permission to preserve the brain for research, a claim which was later disputed.

He kept the brain, which to many people's surprise was not particularly large, and divided it into 240 sections preserved in jars of formaldehyde at his house.

He gave a box of 46 slides to his pathologist colleague William Ehrich, and the samples were eventually donated to the museum in Philadelphia.

"Gentleman, scholar and murderer" Edward H Rulloff's brain - one of the largest ever known - is also on display for the first time in Britain.

Despite being known for his intelligence, he is thought to have killed his wife and child and was sentenced to death in 1871 for killing a shop assistant in New York.

The exhibition also includes the brain of an ancient Egyptian, one of the oldest specimens ever known, the brain of computer science pioneer Charles Babbage (1791-1871), and a brain specimen containing a bullet wound.

The exhibition examines the measuring and classifying of brains, its mapping and modelling, cutting and treating and preservation techniques.

Also on display is a "souvenir" piece of William Burke's brain, which was kept as a piece of "poetic justice" following his hanging in 1929 for murdering several people to sell their bodies for dissection.

The show's co-curator Lucy Shanahan said that the slides of Einstein's brain raised questions about brain collecting, donation and consent and "the desire to establish whether there is something significant or different about the brain of a genius."

Guest Curator Marius Kwint said: "Brains shows how a single, fragile organ has become the object of modern society's most profound hopes, fears and beliefs, and some of its most extreme practices and advanced technologies.

"The different ways in which we have treated and represented real, physical brains open up a lot of questions about our collective minds."

Ken Arnold, Wellcome Collection's Head of Public Programmes, said: "We all recognise its outline and know that it is the most important part of us but for many, the brain remains as mysterious as it is beguiling."

:: Brains: The Mind As Matter opens on Thursday and runs to June 17 at the Wellcome Collection in London.


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